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“That he’s a nutter, I know.” Bria nodded as I moved away. “Jump off that train, lady. This isn’t a family you want to join.”

I did a quick scan of the other surfaces. I didn’t really know what I was looking for… until I found it.

On his nightstand, the last thing he saw before he rolled over and closed his eyes, was a photo of the subject of the fountain.

“Where is this?” I pointed at the photo of Kieran’s mother on a beach, her raven hair ripped to the right by a gust of wind, her smile wide and gorgeous on her beautiful face. Her cream dress billowed, alive and electric. She looked young and free and without any worries. White foam crawled up the wet sand behind her, a wave coming in and reaching for her bare feet. Far in the background, a violent wave had just crashed against a jagged cliff, throwing spray into the air. The effect framed the photo, setting her off perfectly.

The photo was stunning. She was mesmerizing.

“Where is this?” I repeated, tapping the glass with my finger.

Bria leaned in and an oh shit expression crossed her face. “It’s the edge of Ocean Beach. Just down the way.” She grinned triumphantly. “You were right all along. Look at you, reading people. Come on! Let’s unleash the Kraken.”

25

Alexis

Mordecai jumped out at us as we ran across the front yard of a neighbor’s house down the street from Valens’s. Kieran told us to hop fences until we reached the blue house, and then go out through the side of their yard—they were rarely home.

“I was worried sick,” Mordecai said, his eyebrows lowering in confusion as his eyes shot from my attire to the sack I lugged behind me. “Did you steal something?”

“Is it stealing if it was bought for you by a misguided Demigod who wants his way?” I returned.

“No, it is not. It is reclaiming what is yours. You are totally in the right.” Bria stopped up short when she noticed the Mercedes was gone. “Well shit. We have to hoof it.”

Without skipping a beat, she pointed down the hill and picked up the pace.

“No, no. Wait—” Mordecai cut off as a black BMW rolled toward us from the opposite direction, stopping by the curb. The tinted window lowered, revealing an angry-faced Jack.

“Good thing he holds grudges,” Bria said, changing direction. “He’s the one we need.”

We climbed into the car, Bria sitting in the front passenger seat to take the brunt of Jack’s anger. I’d already been yelled at by Kieran—it was her turn to take some heat. Besides, she was the one who’d actually dosed him.

Jack slammed the car into gear before easing pressure onto the gas pedal. If it had been a different situation, I was sure he would’ve stomped on it and peeled out. But we had to maintain a low profile.

“What happened to the Mercedes?” Bria said, pulling out her phone.

“Zorn dropped it in another part of town,” Jack said, fury simmering just below the surface. Either he was terrible at hiding his anger, or he didn’t want to. “Kieran didn’t want it drawing attention up here.”

“Cool,” she said, not affected by the intensity of the large man next to her. “We need to head to the top of Ocean Beach by the cliffs.” She showed him a picture. “This end. Just down the hill.”

He didn’t glance over. “Like hell we do. I’m taking those two home, and you—”

“We might know where the skin is,” Bria said, before explaining what we’d found.

By the end, Jack had let off the gas.

“You’re sure about all this?” he asked, his dark eyes boring into me through the rearview mirror.

I shrugged. “I can’t be sure of anything until we check it out, but it makes sense. It fits.”

He nodded slowly, pulling over to the curb. His fingers tapped against the steering wheel and he gazed out the window. “Did you tell Demigod Kieran?”

“It clicked two seconds ago,” Bria said. “He’s out with his dad. I figure it’s worth checking out. We can text him if we find something. Unless you think they swim around that area?”

He pulled away from the curb again, back to full speed. “When they’re together, they swim way out. They test each other. A gentleman’s competition.”

“What’s a gentleman’s competition?” I grabbed the corner of his seat and leaned forward so I could hear better.

“It means they silently try to outdo each other while pretending it’s a normal day,” Bria said, stowing her phone. “Ego at work, if you will.”

“What happened in there?” Mordecai asked as we left the neighborhood and turned onto a road that would wind down the hill, hugging the cliffs.

I quickly went through everything, trying to skip the part in Kieran’s bedroom. I should’ve known Bria wasn’t finished with me yet.

“Did you use a condom?” she asked suddenly.

“Shhh,” I said, my face flaming again.

“Why? You don’t want Jack to know?” Bria glanced back. “Trust me, it’s obvious. You’ve got that glow of a good lay. You can’t hide that shit.”

“Would you stop?” I lightly jerked my head at a wide-eyed Mordecai.

Bria laughed and turned back around. “That kid is edging into the Wild West of hormones. If he’s not already thinking about sex daily, he will be soon. The best thing you can do is keep everything out in the open so there are no secrets, and so he’ll know to use protection. You used protection, right?”

“Talking about sex is not the problem,” I muttered. “It’s him knowing I gave in when I really shouldn’t have.”

“What did you do?” Mordecai asked me.

“Well, the cat is out of the bag now.” Bria glanced back again, and I swear I wanted to throw myself from the moving car out of pure mortification. Or maybe I wanted to throw her out of the car. I’d never been shy when talking to the kids about these things, but in the past, I hadn’t been talking about my life.

I sucked it up. I was a role model, no matter how unqualified. I needed to set an example.

“I’m covered. The pill is free when you’re below poverty level, and he’s a Demigod—he can’t give or receive STDs. It was safe. I was safe.”

I lifted my chin, feigning confidence and trying to hide my embarrassment.

“He didn’t use a condom?” Jack glanced back, shock written clearly on his face.

We descended the hillside, now overlooking the strip of beach pounded by messy, windswept waves. Swirling fog clouded the sky, promising a crappy beach-going experience. An experience Valens must have purposely cultivated, because back when the picture had been taken, he’d kept this area as clear and lovely as the rest of the magical zone. He didn’t want people down here.

Butterflies surged through my belly. That information had just increased the likelihood that we were right.

“Did he ask you if you were on the pill?” Bria asked, cutting through my nervous excitement.

“He might know,” Jack said. “He’s been thorough when it comes to her.”

“Yeah, but…she could sabotage the situation,” Bria murmured as we pulled into the sandy parking lot. A small smattering of cars and trucks dotted the lot, most of them pushed up right next to the walkway overlooking the beach.

“He clearly trusts her.” Jack put the car into park.

“Yes, he does, doesn’t he?” Bria shoved open the door, and before she was fully out, I heard, “Toot, toot.”

I sighed and followed them out of the car. What a mess.

“Right, so…” Jack stopped on the walkway, littered with trash and piled with sand where the sidewalk met the graffiti-marred barrier, a semi-circular wall to keep any extreme swells or rises in tide from washing out onto the street above. At a break in the barrier, steps led down to the windswept beach.

Bria looked first one way down the sidewalk, then the other, before eyeing the barrier itself. “I’ve always thought this area was neglected because it’s right next to the dual-society zone. But now I’m starting to wonder…”

“That’s what I was thinking,” I said as I descended the four steps onto the rocky, trash-strewn sand. “People rarely come out here for pleasure. They go over to the other side of the point where the weather is good.”

“Then what are these cars doing here?” Mordecai asked, gesturing around us.

“Some are fisherman, and some…” Bria glanced at a beat-up motorhome. “Are probably doing drugs. Speaking of which, I need to grab my car.”

“Thane took care of it,” Jack said with a smirk. “He dropped it at your house. You’re at our mercy now.” Violence glimmered in his dark eyes. A shiver ran the length of my body.

Bria laughed, chugging through the sand beside me. “Sure, sure. Keep thinking you’ve got the upper hand. Let me know how that works out for you. Better yet, I’ll let you know how it’ll work out for you…when you least expect it.”

Cold moisture touched my cheeks and slid across my skin, the fog so thick it felt like a sprinkle. Swirling sheets of gray obscured my vision. Large, half-burnt pieces of driftwood hunkered in the sand as we passed. The hard-packed wet sand bore evidence of the beach’s desolation. There were no footprints.

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